Sus scrofa domesticus
On my dinner plate tonight are mushrooms, broad beans, fennel, and a chunk of dead pig.
I’m sorry to be so blunt about it but there it is, that’s what I’m eating. The flesh of an animal killed for human consumption. I’m not sure what cut of the animal it is – it’s a chop of some kind – because as with many other things the various cuts of meat and their relative merits is just something I’ve never quite bothered to learn about. Besides, I don’t have a lot of money at the moment so I’m not really in a position to be fussy about buying particular cuts of meat: I’m more interested in the price than which part of the animal I’m eating. I’ve chucked the packaging away and cooked the meat so as far as I’m aware what’s in front of me could be loin chops, cutlets, or forequarter chops – to name the three most likely cuts listed by the Australian pork industry group Australian Pork Limited.
Australian Pork Limited lists over twenty common cuts of pork but what you won’t find among their list is any mention of the word “pig”. We don’t eat Pig; we eat pork – just as we eat beef rather than Cow (Bos spp.). I don’t know the origin of the euphemisms “pork” and “beef” but I don’t think any meat-eaters complain about the effect such words have on distancing us from the fact that what we’re eating was once a living, breathing creature that was sentient in its own way. I think it’s telling that we’re more comfortable naming the flesh of Chickens (Gallus gallus) and fish of various kinds – Salmon and Trout (Salmonidae), Flathead (Platycephalidae) – for the animal from which the meat is obtained. They’re sufficiently different from us that it’s easy to stop ourselves from trying to imagine their lives and deaths. Mammals, though are uncomfortably close to home – after all, we’re mammals ourselves and most of us keep or have kept at some stage a beloved pet mammal – and I think being able to call them something other than what they are, when we’re shopping for their flesh, is a comfort.
Perhaps not even a comfort, because when we’re doing our shopping – or our eating, for that matter – I doubt many of us who eat meat stop to consider the animal that that meat once was. I think it’s of great importance, though, to never lose sight of the fact that if we choose to eat meat, we are choosing to eat a dead animal.
I love animals, and I think Chickens and Sheep and Cows and Pigs are beautiful animals. I also love eating them. There are many people for whom this will be an indefensible position, and perhaps they’re right. Perhaps at the end of the day I’m merely too weak-willed to give up eating meat, and undoubtedly I’m as guilty at times as any other meat-eater of ignoring the fact that the food I eat was once a living creature. I do firmly believe that most people in the first world eat far too much meat: a little bit of meat goes an enormously long way in keeping our bodies running, especially in a country like Australia which is for the most part free of truly cold winters. It’s no coincidence that after eating a kill Lions (Panthera leo) will spend hours sleeping: meat is not a thing that needs to be consumed in great quantities. I rarely eat beef nowadays because most cuts of beef are simply too much for one person, and when I see someone devouring an enormous steak I’m horrified. A steak the size of a dinner plate should be enough protein to keep a person going for days and days – it shouldn’t be a nightly meal.
Aside from that, though, I have no moral objection to eating meat. In fact quite the opposite. If you’ve read previous posts in this blog you’ll probably have become used to me equating humans with other animals, and for me one of the greatest moral mistakes humans have made in the modern world is that we’ve come to see ourselves as somehow apart from the broader environment. When the natural world is regarded as something “other”, it becomes all too easy for us to despoil the environment, to destroy ecosystems, to drive species to extinction. If we don’t consider such actions to have any impact upon us – if we consider to them to be something fundamentally apart from our own lives – then any argument to curb the behaviour becomes merely nebulous, an abstraction.
We accept that there are many animals, both wild and domestic, which for their diet rely partly or wholly on the flesh of other animals. We don’t decry such habits – even though we might be distressed to witness one animal killing another. Humans are not by nature carnivores – but we are omnivores, just like any number of animals. A diet consisting entirely or even primarily of meat would be deeply unhealthy for Humans – but a diet entirely lacking in meat is, for me, a fundamental denial of our essential animalness. It’s putting a wall up between Humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.
If this all sounds like so much self-justification – well, it probably is to a degree. I enjoy eating meat. I love the taste of it. When I’m sick and my body needs a boost I crave red meat more than anything else. But I try to limit my consumption of meat to only what’s necessary. My meat-eating is largely seasonal: the amount of meat I eat in summer is hugely less than the amount I eat in winter, when my body needs more fuel to keep itself warm. Eating what I think are appropriate amounts of meat is another essential aspect of my (admittedly unscientific) dietary approach. Because I don’t eat a very large amount of meat, at least by modern western standards, I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy pretty much all of my meat from the fortnightly farmers markets that are held near my house, and in doing so I’m able to buy meat from small-scale producers who seem to genuinely care for the welfare of their animals. Of course killing an animal is a brutal thing, there’s no getting around that, but I’d like to imagine – and with justification, I think – that the farmers from whom I buy my meat directly do their best to ensure that the slaughtering process is as humane as possible. The idea of factory farming horrifies me. The thought that an animal should live a miserable life, only to be killed so that people can eat meat of such low quality that they won’t even think twice about it, makes me profoundly sad. Killing and eating an animal should not be a throwaway act, it should not simply be a process.
Which perhaps marks me out as a hypocrite. What is a wild predator’s killing of a prey animal, if not a process? The humdrum necessity of daily existence? I don’t know if I have an answer to that, except to offer the rather weak excuse that, as you’ve no doubt realised by now, I’m prone to over-thinking everything.
Regardless, it would be grotesque of me to write an entire post about Pigs, and then regard them solely as something to be eaten. So, here are a few basic facts about the animal – the living, breathing, foraging, multiplying beast, not the food on my plate
Pigs are famously intelligent. A study published in 2009 demonstrated that pigs could learn to understand that a mirror showed a reflection of the world: that, in short, a mirror is a mirror and not a window. Pigs are busy animals: the Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), from which the Domestic Pig was bred and to which it is still closely very related, spend 65% of their time active. Boars and Pigs alike are social animals, preferring to be in a group rather than alone – though Domestic Pigs kept in factory farms are often separated from each-other, deprived of contact with their kin. Pigs have a reputation for being dirty animals, and indeed they do wallow in mud and water – but only in order to cool down, as they lack sweat glands. Not surprisingly, Pigs have a much more sensitive sense of smell than Humans – but their hearing is more sensitive, too, and they’re able to hear in a wider range than we are. When in a group, Pigs communicate with each-other vocally. Pigs apparently have a sweet-tooth. And when Pigs get excited, they wag their tail much as a dog does – but in a circular motion, round and round, like a propeller.
Image sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org